Monday, May 23, 2016

Breaking Down Amnesia: Memories - Part 5: Diamond World

Ah, Toma. Or as I nicknamed him, "the psycho boyfriend." (I also called him Stalker-san for a bit, which kind of gives you the impression of what he's like.)

My first playthrough was the Diamond world, for a couple of reasons. As I've mentioned, character design does a lot to show what kind of person the love interest probably is like, and factors into the selection process for the player. Toma had the most appealing character design for me.

Also, the suit he's associated with is diamonds, which was my childhood favorite, so it seemed like a good bonus. My adult favorite is spades, but I didn't like Ikki's design much, so Toma it was.

Of course, if you've read my comments on Shin's route, or seen his bad ending yourself, you can guess I was in for a rough shock, and I was going in blind.

The beginning was entertaining enough, trying to figure out details of the protagonist's past and why she was getting these mysterious threats, all while trying not to cause Toma to freak out. I got halfway through the month before I stopped playing for the night.

Unbeknownst to me, I had picked a really good time to take a break.

In this world, Toma is an older brother figure of the protagonist, and it becomes clear through early dialogue with a third party that he is not her boyfriend. He says he can't get interested in her because they grew up together, and the protagonist's brief flashes of recovering memory tells her that she liked someone who was having trouble seeing her as a woman.

When she gets around to asking him if she liked him before she lost her memory, he tells her that they were a couple, which contradicts what he had said previously.

Playing through Toma's route was fascinating, because choosing the right dialogue choices reveals that there is a lot that Toma is hiding from her, but it's also clear that despite not being her boyfriend, he cares a lot about her. He says and does all kinds of contradictory things (he says he's her boyfriend, but also mentions that they haven't held hands in years) and resists all attempts at intimacy.

It made for a compelling read. I loved it. I was pretty sure he was ultimately on the protagonist's side and had a good reason for his deception, but then I hit the second half of his route.

You see, Toma's route is the problematic one that I alluded to in my first post, and it makes the game difficult to recommend because I'm not down with attempted rape perpetrated by the love interest.

Toma is, in anime fandom terms, yandere. It's a type of character that normally comes off as sweet until jealousy or overprotectiveness unlocks their crazy side.

And no matter what the player does, he will be a bastard to the protagonist in the second half of the route. Unless enough correct choices are made throughout the story (walkthrough probably needed) he is not redeemable. One of the other characters even lampshades this by telling the protagonist that Toma is the least frequent of the love interests to have a happy ending with her in all the worlds.

I was... rather shocked and disbelieving when Toma locked my protagonist in a large dog cage to stop her from leaving his apartment. It's not exactly where I wanted to spend a third of my playthrough.

Because of the memories I had unlocked so far, I was pretty sure that Toma was doing this because it was his sick and twisted way of protecting the protagonist, but there's no getting away from the sick and twisted. He reveals just how much he's been observing the protagonist, and in subsequent playthroughs of his route (I got his bad ending first and wanted to try for his good ending later) his attentiveness to everything she likes comes off far more sinister than the first time through.

He also acknowledges that what he's doing isn't what she wants, but he doesn't care as long as it protects her.

Even if the protagonist is still sympathetic towards Toma, she chooses to escape on the last day of the route and is nearly run over by a motorcycle, causing a number of scrapes and bruises. What happens then is messed up, no matter the good, bad, or normal ending.

If it's the bad ending, Toma catches her outside and locks her up so she can never escape again. If he seemed yandere before, it's nothing compared to his facial expression when he finds her, and makes it clear that he was holding back earlier. And that he won't hold back anymore. The ending illustration is seriously creepy, with the protagonist suspended in chains while Toma is clinging on to her.

The good/normal endings aren't much better. In those the protagonist is not found by Toma and returns to the cage hoping that he won't notice when he gets home, but because he's hyperattentive, he does. He makes her strip to her underwear so he can see all her injuries and then tells her that since she's disregarded his own pain in trying to protect her, he's going to disregard hers. And, it's pretty clear from the illustration of him pinning her on the bed and his dialogue that he intends to rape her.

In the normal ending, there's a sound effect of her breaking free and she runs out the door, bumping into Shin, who helps her escape (I like to think she kicked Toma in the nuts). A lot of the mysteries in the storyline are then resolved in exposition and Toma disappears from her life.

To get the good ending, the protagonist needs to completely trust Toma despite knowing everything he's lying about (if that's not a contradictory set of requirements I don't know what is) and if she does, she doesn't run out of the rape scene. Instead she asks him to help her, and during the resulting moment of shock on his part, she accidentally knocks her diary off a shelf.

The diary reveals (almost) everything that the protagonist had been trying to sort out since she lost her memory.

In a way, Toma's storyline is tragic. It's clear from his actions that he cares about her (it may be twisted to all heck, but it's there) and the diary reveals to both of them that the protagonist loved him too, but she was having trouble confessing her feelings to him. The day they met at the start of the storyline was supposed to be the day she would tell him her feelings, except that it got disrupted by Orion's arrival and the onset of her amnesia, then amplified by unrelated harassment from other girls in a club and stuff related to the fifth storyline that crosses all realities.

Everything snowballed from there, making Toma feel like he had to take extreme measures to protect the protagonist, and causing him to mistakenly think she was in love with someone else (he resisted all her advances because he thought she was someone else's girlfriend) when he was the one she was in love with the whole time.

Since Toma reads the diary as well, he comes back to his senses and participates in the epilogue to set everything right.

But that doesn't excuse everything that he did along the way. I'm surprised how easily the protagonist forgives him (her own voice comes out a lot once she has her memories back) and when she decides to stay with him after everything that's happened, even he admits she has poor taste in men.

What I didn't like about the ending was that Toma reverts completely from psycho wannabe boyfriend back to his earlier affectionate personality. (Five minutes earlier he was ordering her to strip and suddenly he's uncomfortable kissing her when she's not dressed?) It happens so easily that the unfortunate implication is he can switch between the two at the drop of a hat, and when you replay the route, it's easy to see that his psycho side was always there, buried just beneath the surface. Even when he and the protagonist are in their final scene together he admits he's afraid he'll be unable to handle it if she ever leaves him.

It makes me want to shake the protagonist and say, "Did you forget what he almost did you, what he did do to you? Don't you realize that the crazy side of him hasn't gone away?"

I might have been okay with this if Toma had been the bonus/villain route unlocked for subsequent playthroughs, as I expect a certain amount of twistedness in those, but Toma was a regular love interest so this completely blindsided me.

For what it's worth, his storyline is well written and probably worth playing twice so you can see how far ahead he begins manipulating the protagonist (proof that his psycho side was not a sudden snap), but I have mixed feelings about not knowing how dark his route can get. On the one side, not knowing is effective because of the shock it elicits, but on other, it makes this game the "attempted rape by a love interest" game so I'm going to have to include that qualifier whenever talking to anyone interested in playing it.

I've seen characters with yandere tendencies in otome before, but Toma goes so much farther than any of the others. And that's saying something considering that there is a bonus route in this game with a love interest whose split personality wants to kill the protagonist. Ukyo's route is up next week!

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